Silmarillion Writers' Guild
|Name:||Silmarillion Writers' Guild|
|Date(s):||March 2005 - present|
|Type:||Fan Fiction Archive|
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The Silmarillion Writers' Guild or SWG was founded in March of 2005 by Dawn Felagund as on Yahoo! Groups and LiveJournal. On April 1, 2007, the webpage debuted and, a few months after that, on June 6, 2007, the archive opened to the public. As of November 2019, the SWG archives more than 3,500 stories and has hosted numerous projects in honor of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, and the fans that keep his world alive. For example, the SWG was a longtime sponsoring group of the annual Back to Middle-earth Month challenges that take place in March, of which the SWG is a sponsoring group. Currently, the group hosts regular challenges, live readings, collaborative writing sessions, and fanfiction book clubs.
The SWG is an automated archive run on the basis of the Drupal content management system. It accepts stories and audio fanworks that are related to or based on The Silmarillion or its related works, which include all other books by Tolkien that pertain to the events and ideas of The Silmarillion.  It also hosts a reference library with peer-reviewed essays on topics of interest to fans, as well as a growing collection of biographies for many of Tolkien's characters from The Silmarillion.
Dawn Felagund founded the Silmarillion Writers' Guild in 2005. Dawn was new to the fandom, having lurked for about a year at that point. The History section on the SWG website describes its origin story as follows:
- An utter newbie to both Middle-earth and the slightly scarier realm of fandom, Dawn was probably the last person who should have announced her entrance into both by starting a group as ambitious as the SWG. However, in a fit of bravery--or foolishness--that is just what she aspired to do.
Dawn admits that the idea for the SWG came during a bout of insomnia but identifies a larger need to contribute to the Tolkien fandom and, in particular, a lack of Silmarillion-specific content in the wave of interest following Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films:
- Tolkien fandom was at its peak but the Silmarillion-based stories were like the proverbial leaves on the wind, scattered among myriad sites and archives, often written by authors who didn't talk or even necessarily know of each other. Silmarillion fan fiction writers had a single Yahoo! mailing list, but its sole moderator had disappeared and stopped approving messages.
The SWG originated on Yahoo! Groups and LiveJournal before opening its website two years later, in 2007. It was originally intended to be a writer's workshop where authors could receive specific feedback on their work. There was no intention to have an archive, a newsletter, challenges, or references--all features that would come to be important in the SWG as it evolved. The writer's workshop never took hold. After setting up the Yahoo! and LiveJournal groups, Dawn, "starting to get scared" by "the enormity of what she'd done," mostly returned to lurkdom. During this time, she began posting her first fanfiction based on The Silmarillion, Another Man's Cage. Interest in this story drew Enismirdal and ford_of_bruinen to join her new group. Ford_of_bruinen especially took on a mentor role, agreed to join Dawn as a moderator, and urged recruitment at the end of July. By early August, the group had about twenty members.
The original SWG website was a hand-coded site that included an automated archive built using the eFiction open-source script, which stopped being actively developed in 2015. In August 2019, an upgrade to the SWG's web server began causing significant issues with the site's aging eFiction archive. According to Dawn, the moderator team was faced with a decision at this point: "We could accept that the site had reached its end and let it slowly die as further updates broke more and more of our code, or we could rebuild the site using software that was keeping up with these changes." Knowing that eFiction was no longer being developed, the moderators had already begun talking casually about migrating to new software; with the server upgrade, they made their decision to rebuild the site using the open-source Drupal content management system. Construction of the site by Dawn and Russandol began in earnest in August 2020, and the new site opened in April 2021.
The new Drupal site allowed considerably more flexibility in building features that extended beyond the archive's primary purpose as an archive for fanfiction and other text-based fanworks. In 2022, Dawn and Russandol worked on expanding the site to accept all types of fanwork, including art, playlists, link collections, videos, and multimedia fanworks. The newsletter, which had ceased following the migration to the new software, resumed in a weekly email format in order to spotlight SWG news and fanworks posted to the site and to promote original content created for the newsletter.
- March 14. The Silmarillion Writers' Guild is established on Yahoo! Groups and LiveJournal by Dawn Felagund.
- July 27. Dawn Felagund and co-moderator ford_of_bruinen begin recruiting members.
- September. The SWG publishes its first newsletter.
- September. The first challenge, Strong Women, is created.
- January 5. Discussion begins on the SWG's Yahoo! group about setting up a website and fiction archive .
- June 12. digdigil joins the moderation team.
- April 1. The SWG website opens .
- May. SWG moderators and volunteers begin beta-testing the archive .
- May 23. Tárion Anaróre joins the moderation team.
- June 6. The SWG archive is opened for public contributions .
- July. The SWG sponsors their first summer event, the Seven in '07 project, a compilation of fanworks about the Fëanorians.
- September 15. In honor of the 30th anniversary of the publication of The Silmarillion, the SWG hosts a writing contest.
- September 25. Rhapsody the Bard joins the moderation team.
- March. For the group's third Back to Middle-earth Month, the SWG compiles contributed fanworks for the year's theme The Circles of the World. This establishes the Back to Middle-earth Month event as a participatory event for writers and artists on the SWG.
- July. The SWG Yellow Pages open, providing a directory of Tolkien- and writing-related groups.
- August. Akallabêth in August debuts as one of the group's monthly writing challenges.
- December. Angelica Ramses joins the moderation team .
- Challenges switch to a quarterly format.
- March. The fourth-annual Back to Middle-earth Month event commences with the theme "Influences." Members are provided with a daily challenge that encourages them to reflect on their own experiences when creating their responses  . The LotR GenFic Community (later Many Paths to Tread) also promotes this challenge for the first time.
- August. SWG authors and artists create a compilation of fanworks for Akallabêth in August in order to retell the history of the Second Age  .
- January. The SWG participates in the Help Haiti auction .
- March. The fifth-annual Back to Middle-earth Month is undertaken by the SWG and Many Paths to Tread. The event's theme is The Last Battle; the event asks members to create stories and artwork based on challenges uncovered as part of an interactive game format.
- August. The SWG celebrates its fifth birthday with an event inviting members to suggest themes and awards (tokens). All members have the opportunity to submit work for the themed compilations and award tokens to favorite stories and authors  .
- November. The Library of Tirion opens to provide a section of the site for archiving older Silmarillion-based fanworks.
- March. The SWG and Many Paths to Tread compile a series of daily challenges for the sixth-annual Back to Middle-earth Month. The theme is Passport to Middle-earth with a daily location-based challenge and customized passports for participants.
- April 12. The SWG opens a Dreamwidth community by request of several members after chronic denial of service attacks on LiveJournal.
- May. Work begins on a redesign of the site layout and establishment of an art gallery .
- June 21. The three-month Season of Writing Dangerously event begins.
- March 1. Russandol joins the moderation team .
- March. The SWG, Many Paths to Tread, and the DeviantArt community Arda Inspired host the seventh-annual Back to Middle-earth Month with the theme Bingo Baggins' BINGO Bash. This is the Back to Middle-earth Month with the highest level of participation to date, with 88 participants signed up.
- November. The SWG archive begins accepting podfic .
- January. New challenge format debuts.
- August 21. An upgrade to the SWG's web server begins to cause significant problems with the eFiction script and the discussion about migrating to a new software begins in earnest.
- August. Dawn begins rebuilding the website in Drupal.
- March. Beta testing of the new site begins.
- April 6. The new site soft opens with an announcement on the SWG Discord.
- April 9. The new site officially opens.
- February 12. The archive begins accepting artwork.
- March 5. The SWG newsletter resumes for the first time since the site rebuild in a weekly email format.
- March 5. LiveJournal is no longer an official SWG social media platform.
- March 12. The monthly Cultus Dispatches fan history column is launched as part of the newsletter.
- June 11. The archive begins accepting playlists and link collections as fanworks.
The Silmarillion Writers' Guild formed at an interesting point in the history of Internet Tolkienfic fandom. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films were just recently out of theaters, but the fandom had experienced an ongoing explosion of interest. Conflict was fairly high among different groups and factions of fans, and gatekeeping was common. For example, there was antipathy by some toward movieverse fans, anti-slash sentiment was commonplace, and several of the large Tolkien fanfiction archives were perceived to be at least somewhat in competition with each other. Canon compliance was regarded as important, and fanfiction was viewed by many as a means to improve as a writer.
The SWG, in many ways, responded to and resisted aspects of this culture. For example, the group's policies were written in opposition of the idea that fanfiction groups needed to view each other as rivals. For instance, while some groups strictly forbade advertising events sponsored on other sites, the SWG encouraged it. The Connectivity component of the group's seven-part mission, for example, states:
- Connectivity. To recognize that we are only a single small group in a vast online Tolkien fan community and to work toward connecting and sharing with the Tolkien fandom at large, as well as aiding members in finding groups and resources that meet their needs where the SWG cannot.
Like other sites built during this time period, the SWG did not include any form of gatekeeping. Multiple components of the group's mission, for example, address welcoming and supporting newcomers, both to writing and Tolkien's world. Likewise, the Site Etiquette includes multiple examples of language intended to protect and support its authors, including new writers.
The 2015 Tolkien Fan Fiction Survey shows that, compared to the wider Tolkien fanfiction community, have several tendencies:
- They value Tolkien's authority slightly less than the fandom as a whole, though not significantly so.
- They valued social justice as a motive for writing fanfiction more than any other Tolkien-specific archive included in the study.
- They view their fanfiction as a vehicle of criticism of Tolkien's world. As with social justice, SWG members agreed most often of all Tolkien-specific archives with survey items about critical motives. Characters subjected to narrative bias in The Silmarillion tend to be popular among SWG authors, suggesting an interest in revisionist interpretations of the canon. Several prominent SWG members (including oshun, pandemonium_213, Independence1776, and Dawn Felagund) also prominently identified as canon heretics in the group's early years, a self-styling intended to show their openness to thinking critically about the canon and opposition to gatekeeping and bullying aimed at new fans, slash writers, and other groups of fans often attacked for being "non-canonical."
- At the same time, they place a high value on using accurate canon in resources, meta, and discussions, in part due to the tendency at the time of the group's formation of fans using incorrect or nonexistent canon or fanon to attack or gatekeep fans with views they did not like. The SWG Reference Library was among the first of such resources in the fanfiction community to require strict citation of sources.(source needed)
One of the oldest features of the SWG is its challenges, which began in September 2005 with its Strong Women challenge. Initially, challenges ran monthly--sometimes two per month--and were created by Dawn Felagund and digdigil. In 2009, challenges switched to a quarterly format. At this time, challenges were typically written by Rhapsody and Dawn. According a brief history presented on the SWG's Challenge page, as available through Archive.org, "Challenges were always entirely self-directed: You did not have to sign up, post your work by a certain date, or meet any other requirements."
In 2017, several major changes were put in place for the challenges, mostly due to poor participation. Most months, no one was completing the challenges. Discussions among the group moderators identified that the challenges weren't being widely promoted, and the open-ended nature of the due date created low pressure for people to participate, which often meant that they simply didn't participate. In addition, the moderators wanted to experiment with more diverse challenge formats. Beginning in January 2017, challenges returned to a monthly format with more effort to promote the challenges independently of the newsletter. Challenges used a variety of formats, such as assigned prompts, prompt generators, and bingo cards, as well as formats that more closely matched the format of the group's challenges to this point. Challenges more explicitly encouraged creators of fanworks other than fanfiction to participate as well. Participants also received a stamp for participating. Stamps were available for creating and commenting on fanworks made for that month's challenge and were put together in an annual collection that was displayed on the member's profile. With the stamps came deadlines for creating fanworks. Although challenges technically never closed, a fanwork needed to be posted to the SWG archive by the deadline to receive that month's stamp.
Participation rose after the changes. The first challenge under the new format, Taboo, received twenty-three fanworks created for it. While this number would prove to be high, during 2017, an average of fifteen fanworks were created for each of 2017's eleven challenges.
As of November 2019, the challenge format remains the same, and participation remains high, although not as high as in 2017. Challenges are created by Lyra, Grundy, and Dawn with input from the rest of the moderator team. While formats vary, each year includes one bingo card and one Matryoshka challenge, and at least one challenge each year includes music and at least one includes images as prompts. Challenges often contain a deliberate social justice component to encourage fanworks about marginalized groups (e.g., A Woman's Sceptre, Breaking Boundaries, Hidden Figures). Each January is an amnesty challenge where participants can create for any of the previous year's challenges (and receive stamps they missed), and November and December are combined into a single challenge.
- About SWG, "Our History", accessed 17 November 2019.
- In a Stone House by the Sea: The Founding and Governing of the Silmarillion Writers' Guild, accessed 17 November 2019. This article was originally published in the Signum University Eagle. The referenced mailing list that had gone dead was Silmfics.
- What's New? What's Different? A Tour of Our New Site, 3 April 2021.
- Official Website Reopening!, 9 April 2021.
- Our Art Section Is Now Open!, 12 February 2022.
- SWG LiveJournal No Longer Posting Announcements, 5 March 2022.
- Link Collections and Playlists Are Here!, 11 June 2022.
- See Robin Anne Reid, "Breaking of the Fellowship: Competing Discourses of Archives and Canons in The Lord of the Rings Internet Fandom," in How We Became Middle-Earth: A Collection of Essays on The Lord of the Rings (Ed. Adam Lam and Nataliya Oryshchuk. Zollikofen, Switzerland: Walking Tree, 2007, 347-370) and Kristi Lee Brobeck, Under the Waterfall: A Fanfiction Community's Analysis of Their Self-Representation and Peer Review in Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media 5 (2004). Both articles, written during the time period under discussion, document the tension that existed between the myriad fandom communities in operation at the time.
- About SWG, "Our Mission", accessed 18 April 2021.
- Dawn Felagund, Fandom Communities Have Cultures, July 2019, accessed 17 November 2019.
- SWG Site Etiquette, accessed 17 November 2019.
- Dawn (Felagund) Walls-Thumma, Data on Tolkien Fanfiction Culture and Practices (1st Edition), pages 32-35.
- Dawn (Felagund) Walls-Thumma, Data on Tolkien Fanfiction Culture and Practices (1st Edition), pages 35-36.
- Dawn (Felagund) Walls-Thumma, Data on Tolkien Fanfiction Culture and Practices (1st Edition), pages 37-39.
- Dawn (Felagund) Walls-Thumma, Attainable Vistas: Historical Bias in Tolkien's Legendarium as a Motive for Transformative Fanworks, in Journal of Tolkien Research (Vol. 3, Issue 3, 2016, pages 26-27).
- SWG Challenges by Date, accessed 17 November 2019.
- SWG Challenges (Archive.org version), archived 11 May 2019, accessed 17 November 2019.